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What Is Ashwagandha? Everything You Need To Know

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There are a lot of reasons why you might stress out. It could be work, school, or personal relationships. Whatever the case, it's important to find ways to relax and ease your mind. Many turn away from prescription drugs and look for natural solutions instead. Herbs and remedies like ashwagandha, also called "Indian ginseng," are gaining popularity for their stress-relieving properties, but how valid are the claims?

Like all medical information that you find online, you want to look at the science to see if there's any truth to the matter. In this case, there is some scientific evidence to support the use of ashwagandha for stress relief, and a few other potential benefits as well.

Before you consider trying ashwagandha, it's always best to speak with your doctor first, especially if you have any medical conditions or are taking any medications, as drug interactions are possible. Read on to learn more about ashwagandha and what the science says about its use.

What Is Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha is a herb that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine (the traditional medicine of India) for centuries. It is also known as "Indian ginseng" because of its similarity to the Chinese herb ginseng.

Ashwagandha is thought to have a variety of health benefits, including reducing stress and anxiety, boosting energy levels, and improving memory and concentration. It is also said to be effective in treating conditions such as arthritis, insomnia, and asthma.

The plant itself is a small shrub that grows in the dry regions of India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The roots and leaves of the plant are used to make a variety of different products, including powders, capsules, and teas. Ashwagandha is also sometimes used as a spice in Indian cuisine. The herb is thought to have a number of different active compounds, including withanolides, saponins, and alkaloids.

One thing that sets ashwagandha apart from other herbs is that it is classified as an "adaptogen." This means that it is thought to help the body adapt to stress and promote overall health. But is there any science to back up these claims?

A number of studies have been conducted on the potential health benefits of ashwagandha that show promising results. Check out some of the benefits of this popular herb below.

Ashwagandha: The Science-Backed Benefits

If you've been paying attention to the world of natural health lately, you've probably heard of ashwagandha. This small, unassuming root has been used for centuries in Indian Ayurvedic medicine to treat a variety of conditions, but only recently has it begun to gain popularity in the Western world.

So what does the science say about ashwagandha? Is it really the miracle cure it's claimed to be?

Here's a look at some of the benefits of ashwagandha that are backed by science.

1. Ashwagandha May Help Reduce Stress and Anxiety

The most common use of ashwagandha is to help reduce stress and anxiety. Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, meaning it helps your body to adapt to stress. A study in 2019 showed that ashwagandha may help reduce stress and anxiety in people with chronic stress and improve their quality of life. Another study in 2014 showed that ashwagandha may help reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality in people with anxiety disorders.

In these studies, a placebo-controlled group was given either ashwagandha or a placebo, allowing researchers to see if there were any differences between the groups. The studies found that the group taking ashwagandha was more likely to experience a reduction in stress and anxiety symptoms than the placebo group.

But how does it work?

Ashwagandha is thought to work by reducing the levels of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is a stress hormone that can have negative effects on the body, such as increased anxiety and blood pressure. By reducing cortisol levels, ashwagandha may help to reduce stress and anxiety.

It may also work by reducing inflammation in the body. Inflammation is thought to play a role in stress and anxiety. By reducing inflammation, ashwagandha may help to reduce stress and anxiety.

2. Ashwagandha May Help Boost Your Muscle Mass and Strength

If you’re looking to boost your muscle mass and strength, ashwagandha may be able to help. In a 2015 study in 57 young men, those who took ashwagandha had greater muscle mass and strength than those who didn’t. This study also showed that ashwagandha may help increase testosterone levels, which could further enhance muscle growth.

But why did the participants in this study who took ashwagandha gain more muscle mass and strength? One reason may be that ashwagandha can reduce stress and inflammation. When you’re stressed, your body produces the hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol can lead to muscle loss. Plus, stress can increase inflammation, which can also lead to muscle loss. Therefore, by reducing stress and inflammation, ashwagandha may help preserve muscle mass.

Alternatively, it’s possible that ashwagandha may work by increasing levels of testosterone, a hormone that’s important for muscle growth. Additionally, ashwagandha may help increase levels of the growth hormone IGF-1, which also plays a role in muscle growth.

Participants of the study also lowered their body fat percentage, which could be another reason they gained muscle mass.

3. Ashwagandha Can Lower Blood Sugar Levels

Ashwagandha supplements can lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

In one study, people with type 2 diabetes who took ashwagandha root extract for 30 days had lower blood sugar levels than those who took a placebo. The study found that for some, ashwagandha was as effective as using a prescription drug for lowering blood sugar.

A second study found that ashwagandha can be helpful in reducing blood glucose levels and triglycerides. Triglycerides are a type of fat in your blood that can increase the risk for heart disease.

How might it work? The cause isn't exactly clear, but it may be that the herb can help insulin levels to rise and fall more normally.

4. Ashwagandha Might Improve Sexual Health and Fertility in Women

Ashwagandha is widely used as a general tonic and “adaptogen,” a natural substance claimed to help the body adapt to stress. This herb has also been traditionally used to enhance sexual health and increase energy levels. 

Sexual dysfunction in women can cause significant personal distress. Lack of libido, lubrication, satisfaction, and orgasm are common problems. Many medications and psychological factors can contribute to sexual dysfunction, but few effective treatments exist. Though it is not known to be an aphrodisiac, ashwagandha may improve sexual dysfunction in women by reducing anxiety and depression, two common psychological factors that can impede sexual function. 

Ashwagandha may also improve sexual function by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, two common biological factors that can impede sexual function. In addition, ashwagandha may increase levels of the hormone testosterone, which can improve sexual function in women. 

One study showed that women who took 300mg of ashwagandha twice daily for 8 weeks improved sexual function, including desire, satisfaction, and orgasm, compared to the placebo group. The results were self-reported, meaning they may not be accurate. Larger, well-designed studies are needed to confirm these effects. 

5. Ashwagandha May Boost Testosterone Levels in Men and Women

Ashwagandha is a herb popular in traditional medicine. It's thought to potentially improve testosterone levels by reducing stress and increasing antioxidant capacity. A 2015 study associated ashwagandha with increased muscle mass, which in turn could lead to higher testosterone levels. 

There is some evidence to suggest that ashwagandha may boost testosterone levels due to its effects on stress and antioxidant capacity. However, more research is needed to confirm these potential effects.

6. Ashwagandha Sharpens Focus and Memory

Studies have consistently shown that Ashwagandha has a positive impact on cognitive and psychomotor performance, and this effect is most pronounced in tasks that require focus or test memory. 

One such study was conducted in 2014 by researchers at Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences, which examined the effect of Ashwagandha on focusing ability by subjecting men to various focus-intense tasks and found that Ashwagandha significantly improves performance in such tasks. Another study, done by researchers at the Red Cross in 2017, found that Ashwagandha improves learning and memory performance both in immediate and long-term learning contexts.

7. Ashwagandha Boosts Fertility in Men

Semen-quality tests have been used to evaluate the effect of ashwagandha on male fertility. The results of these studies showed that ashwagandha increased sperm count, motility, and morphology.

In one study, pregnancy occurred in the partners of 14% of the patients who received ashwagandha and in 5% of the patients who received the placebo. The difference was statistically significant, and may show that ashwagandha increases fertility in men by improving semen quality.

Is There Anything Dangerous About Ashwagandha?

There is very little danger associated with Ashwagandha. However, large doses may cause stomach upset and diarrhea. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is best to avoid Ashwagandha. People with autoimmune conditions should also avoid Ashwagandha, as it may worsen symptoms.

Common symptoms of overdose include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In rare cases, Ashwagandha may cause liver damage. If you experience any of these symptoms, stop taking Ashwagandha and seek medical help immediately.

Typical side effects of Ashwagandha include:

  • Vomitting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach upset
  • Dizziness
  • Headache

If you experience any of these side effects, ask your doctor whether you should continue taking Ashwagandha.

Can You Take Ashwagandha With Other Medications?

Ashwagandha may interact with certain medications. Therefore, it is important to tell your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking any other medications, including natural health products or other prescription and non-prescription drugs.

Ashwagandha is generally well tolerated. The most common side effect is gastrointestinal upset, such as abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Weakening or strengthening of drugs taken with ashwagandha has not been well studied. Therefore, it is important to tell your doctor if you are taking any other medications, including natural health products or other prescription and non-prescription drugs.

Ashwagandha Dosage: Where Do I Begin?

Most people will start with a dosage of 250–500 mg per day. If you have any medical conditions, are taking any other medications, or have any allergies, please consult your healthcare professional before taking any supplements.

The body may not absorb excess ashwagandha, so it is best to start with a lower dose and increase it gradually over time. Ashwagandha is generally considered safe for most people, but side effects increase with the dosage, so you may as well start with the lowest effective dose and increase it gradually as needed.

Ashwagandha: The Bottom Line

When it comes to your health, you want to make sure that you are getting the most out of your supplements. If you are looking for a supplement that can help you with stress, anxiety, and maybe even some sexual health or physical performance issues, then ashwagandha may be a good choice for you. However, as with any supplement, it is always best to talk to your doctor before you start taking it.

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This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Your specific circumstances should be discussed with a healthcare provider. All statements of opinion represent the writers' judgement at the time of publication and are subject to change. Phoenix and its affiliates provide no express or implied endorsements of third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products, or services.

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